Hello and good morning. My name is David Pringle, I am from the Diocese of Southeast Florida, Province IV, and I am extremely honored to have been selected as one of the Official Youth Presence for General Convention 2006. I have also been privileged to meet 17 other amazing young people, as well as some wonderful mentors who have been guiding us throughout this amazing experience. I can’t begin to explain my gratitude for being allowed to take part in this event the way I am.
Three years ago, I would have never pictured myself standing here delivering a speech to the House of Bishops at General Convention. I would have never even imagined myself being a part of General Convention at all. The huge increase in time and effort that I have enjoyably spent on church events, projects and missions is part of the reason why I felt so driven to speak on the topic of Christian Formation in the first place.
I have come here more than willing to share my wonderful experiences--and also some negative--within the church, and provide my thoughts and ideas on how to minimize the latter as much as possible. Simultaneously, it is my desire to bring more and more people into the church to enjoy the great and wonderful things that can take place in the name of Christ.
I can honestly stand here and say that I did not invest much of my spirituality in the church until the year 2004. This doesn’t sound like much, until you consider that I’ve been an acolyte for ten years. Of course, to those of you who are let’s call it…more seasoned veterans, this is chump change. But when you consider my age, a tender 18, we’re talking more than half of my life. Now, why is this such a big deal? Picture a young acolyte, all dressed in white (nearly suffocating in his Sunday best in South Florida’s heat no doubt) sitting in a pew wondering what he is doing spending his weekend in a stuffy old church with a bunch of stuffy old people. Multiply that by oh, a decade or so and you’ve got my earliest Christian experiences.
So what happened in 2004? As a sophomore in high school I had reached a point where my skepticism was at its peak. Not only was I unsure of my faith, but I was surrounded by skeptics as well. Who knew there were so many atheists in high school? More disturbing than the sheer number were the reasons for disbelief, and even more disturbing than the reasons themselves was that I actually found myself agreeing with some. I thought to myself, “How can this be? How can someone who’s spent his entire life in the church be doubtful of his faith?”
As I look back in reflection, I realize that young people are inherently inquisitive, and as you all know, require explanations for everything. Pair this with the fact that due to many actions of the church or its members, there are a number of young people, especially within the youth, that feel unwelcome. This, my brothers and sisters, is nothing short of a travesty.
As sophomore year wore on, things were beginning to get very confusing for me, but then in one summer everything changed. I took part in Province IV’s Provincial Youth Event in Berea, Kentucky. Many of you may be familiar with the city, as the Episcopal Youth Event took place in the same area the following year. Why was this such an eye-opening experience? Helping those people jump-start their very modest mountain community quite literally changed my life. The mission trip at Barnes Mountain during PYE 2004 was the first time I witnessed for myself the hand of God at work. Never had I been so involved. So moved. So emotionally, spiritually, and physically invested in something, and all in the name of our Lord.
On one particular day it had been raining all morning, and as we were leaving the cafeteria at Berea, we were contemplating whether or not it would be worth the journey to Barnes Mountain (an hour away from the campus). In the end, I suppose it was a calling from Christ that got us on those buses towards the mountain.
There was a project (one of many) to construct a fifty-foot-long ditch that was required to be at least forty-five inches deep. This was to ensure that a pipe that was being laid would have sufficient insulation against the cold winter months. Picture if you will a giant ditch extending through the entire work area, filled with mud, rocks, but most importantly, people. As I looked around, I noticed not only people from my own diocese or other youth I had met, but adults—including several bishops—that were digging the same ditch with everyone. Where else in the church can you find such community united in Christ, doing his work as one body, blind to age, race gender and theological differences! Once again, Jesus uses mud to heal. This time it was me.
When I got back from PYE, everything was different. I had a purpose in the church, and I felt the church had achieved part of its mission through me. This, my brothers and sisters, is what Christian formation is all about. The Church’s mission is Christ’s mission, and that is to spread God’s peace, love and happiness to the world.
Unfortunately, throughout the Church’s history this message has been rather disfigured. Inquisitions, crusades, witch hunts, other embarrassments and misguided mistakes have turned what should be nothing but positive into overwhelming negative for a significant number of people. A general distaste for organized religion can be seen and heard, and it is disheartening. No one should feel alienated from Christ’s love. Our faith is meant for everyone, not just who we decide should be included.
So how do we go about this daunting task? How do we bring in as many new Christians as possible, and show the world once and for all that it really is all about the love? All we have to do it stop the hate, and educate. Education doesn’t only take place in a classroom or even a Sunday school room. Learning can take place through experience, as it did with me, whether it’s during early childhood or a high school mission trip.
Likewise, through experiences such as mine, we can all learn to stop hating our brothers and sisters simply because they are different from us. We can also learn to understand life from another’s point of view. We can then truly begin to love one another the way God intended. We can show the world that we are not about alienation, but inclusion. We are not about scrutiny, but acceptance. There is no real “one-step-solution” to all of our problems with evangelism, but there is a solution to Christian formation, and that, my brothers and sisters is God’s love. Before I end, I would like to leave you all with a quote from Samuel Chadwick:
“Compassion costs. It is easy enough to argue, criticize and condemn, but redemption is costly, and comfort draws from the deep. Brains can argue, but it takes heart to comfort.”
Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity, and God bless.